What could I possibly say about the iconic Columbia Restaurant that hasn’t been said before? From its humble Ybor City beginnings in 1905 as a small corner sandwich shop to its current status as Florida’s oldest restaurant and the largest Spanish restaurant in the world, the Columbia has been dishing up authentic Cuban cuisine for over one hundred years – and shows no signs of ever slowing down.
Founded in 1905 by Cuban immigrant Casimiro Hernandez, Sr., the Columbia Cafe catered to Ybor City’s hard-working and hard-drinking local cigar workers with light meals and strong drinks. In 1918, with Florida’s prohibition laws in full swing, the Columbia hastily transformed into a restaurant and shot glasses were replaced by demitasse cups filled with its own special blend of Cuban coffee.
The original 1905 Columbia Cafe*
Joined by his son, also named Casimiro, Casimiro, Sr. took over the restaurant next door in 1919 and converted it into an additional dining room. Casimiro Jr. aspired to take the Columbia beyond its humble beginnings and envisioned an elegant dining room with music and dancing, the likes of which were unheard of in this part of the country at the time. When he took over the Columbia’s reigns after the death of his father in 1930, Casimiro Jr. began turning his dream into reality by building the first air-conditioned dining room in Tampa, complete with an elevated dance floor. He named it the Don Quixote Room. Since then, many more dining rooms have been added, including a 300-seat showroom, called the Siboney Room, designed to showcase top Latin talent.
The Don Quixote Room circa 1950*
Today, the Columbia in Ybor City has a total of 52,000 square feet with seating for up to 1,700 customers in fifteen dining rooms. It encompasses an entire city block! It has also earned more distinguished awards and accolades than you can count. There are also seven offshoots of the original restaurant scattered around the state of Florida, including the first one opened in Sarasota in 1959. All are still run by descendants of Casimiro Sr.
The original 60 seat café from 1905 as it looks today**
With such an illustrious history, you can imagine that the food served at the Columbia is something special. It truly is. I adore eating at both the Sarasota restaurant and at the original in Tampa. There are several signature dishes from the Columbia that I order again and again, including the “1905” Salad. It is my hands down, absolute favorite salad in the whole world. read more >>